With more than 69% of Americans now classified as overweight or obese, it’s clear that our weight is becoming a universal problem. And with weight gain comes a host of other health issues that ride the wave, including Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular problems, and some cancers.
The hormone factor
For women, it has been shown that being overweight after menopause increases your risk of breast cancer and breast cancer recurrence. When a woman goes through menopause, her ovaries cease to produce estrogen, and so the estrogen is then produced and stored in fat cells. Women who are overweight or obese have a higher concentration of fat cells, thus higher concentrations of estrogen. Estrogen can cause hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers to develop and grow.
For breast cancer survivors, being overweight can increase your risk of:
- Breast cancer recurrence
- Breast cancer mortality
- Overall mortality rate (dying from anything rather than specifically breast cancer.)
Gaining weight after a breast cancer diagnosis can also increase these risks
Comparing apples to…pears
The link between extra weight and breast cancer can be a tricky one to navigate, but it is generally agreed that the time frame during which you gained the weight, and the location of the extra weight can affect your chances of developing breast cancer. Weight that is carried around your belly (“apple shaped”) is thought to be more dangerous than extra weight around your hips and thighs (“pear shaped”). And weight gained in adulthood appears to increase your risk more than weight that is carried over from childhood. One study showed that women who gained 20 pounds or more after the age of 18 had a 15 percent higher chance of postmenopausal breast cancer, while women who had gained 55 pounds or more had as much as a 45 percent higher chance of developing postmenopausal breast cancer.
Ongoing studies are still examining the link between losing weight and reducing your risk of a breast cancer recurrence. One study from the Nurses’ Health Study showed that losing weight and keeping it off for more than four years can decrease your risk of a breast cancer recurrence by more than 40%, and another study showed that weight-loss surgery decreases your risk by more than 83%.
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